Using history as a guide, one might expect conservative news sources and their contributors to routinely side with police when someone is arrested. Such has been the situation in many cases, but that is changing in the wake of the recent arrest in Cambridge, Mass.
At least two contributors to conservative news organizations both agree that Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley was flat out wrong when he arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct.
Writing in the Aug. 1 Washington Times, columnist Jacob Sullum said anyone in America, white or black, faces the possibility of arrest simply because there are “police officers who conflate their own personal dignity with public safety.”
Sgt. Crowley was responding to a call of a possible break-in at a home. It was Mr. Gates’ residence, a house he rents from Harvard University. And while Mr. Gates was reluctant to show identification, he eventually did. The police officer knew who he was, knew he belonged in the house, but arrested him anyway because of how he was being spoken to.
By conflating personal dignity with public safety, as Mr. Sullum said, Sgt. Crowley was actually stepping outside the boundary of law, assuming that a private citizen in his own home must be totally obedient to whatever a police officer says.
As Mr. Sullum wrote:
“Sgt. Crowley claims Mr. Gates recklessly created public alarm by haranguing him from the porch of his house, attracting a small crowd that included ‘at least seven unidentified passers-by’ as well as several police officers. Yet it was Sgt. Crowley who suggested that Mr. Gates follow him outside, thereby setting him up for the disorderly conduct charge.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that Sgt. Crowley was angered and embarrassed by Mr. Gates' ‘outburst’ and therefore sought to create a pretext for arresting him.”
Joining in the criticism of Sgt. Crowley’s action is Judge Andrew Napolitano, the legal analyst for Fox News.
The judge explained that arrests for disorderly conduct are permitted only if the conduct in question was done in public and if it prevents those “lawfully present what they are lawfully present to do. … You can’t be disorderly if you’re in your house or on your property.”
He further said that if Mr. Gates was arrested for the words he used either in the house or on the porch, it was an improper arrest.
While it was proper for Sgt. Crowley to respond to the report of a possible break-in, what followed was out of line. It reflects an attitude by the responding officer that he is owed something special, deference in all situations.
The attitude is not new and it reflects one of the negative aspects of human nature. People sometimes confuse themselves with what they represent. For people to respect the law, the laws themselves need to be respectable, as do those who represent the law.
Sgt. Crowley would have done better had he departed the property once he learned that Mr. gates belonged there and simply ignore any comments Mr. Gates made. That’s what a true peace office would have done. Instead, the sergeant acted as a law enforcement officer who thought he was the law itself, and was not to be questioned or challenged.